Updated: Mar 30, 2019
Fabryka Club, Krakow, 9/11/10
The Futureheads were a post-punk band from Sunderland who existed between 2000-2013. They surfed the wave of UK indie guitar bands in the noughties and produced five edgy, spiky, post-punk influenced albums which briefly troubled the outer regions of the charts, but their cult following never got beyond that and in 2013 after over a decade of playing and touring, they decided to go their separate ways. Ross Millard is now a member of Frankie & the Heartstrings, contributing to their third album Decency in 2015. Dave Hyde is one-half of the duo Hyde & Beast with Neil Bassett, formerly of The Golden Virgins. Jaff occasionally performs with School of Language. Fabryka Club, where they played on this decent night, was knocked down in 2014 and is now the site of an apartment block.
The Futureheads have, it seems, been around for yonks. The most famous band ever to have come out of Sunderland, except perhaps for The Toy Dolls, have crammed so much into their short career that it seems impossible that their blistering debut album, full of XTC nods, acappella harmonies and riffs ripped from bands like The Knack (think My Sharona) only came out in 2004. Three albums later, including one ‘difficult’ second one which resulted in them being unceremoniously dropped by their record label, they’ve become self-sufficient, self-managed and have set up their own record label: a tribute to perseverance. ‘The Chaos’, their latest release, is a spiky, angular record. To describe it as a return to form would be to inaccurately intimate that blistering talent ever eluded them. Rather, this release reflects a band who are once again happy with their lot, content in the freedom to produce and release albums under their own label, Nul Records. Fiercely energetic and full to bursting with hooky pop riffs, ‘The Chaos’ showcases The Futureheads at their best, and tonight's gig only serves to endorse this. Disappointingly, and rather mystifyingly given the band’s generally excellent live performances, the crowd numbers only about 150, and in Fabryka’s (Factory’s) industrial surrounds, there is enough room for everyone to swing several cats and not have to worry themselves about it. Nevertheless, there is a buzz of anticipation amongst those present; warmed up by local newcomers Bad Light District, whose moody Joy Division-esque sound, while not massively original, has the audience nodding appreciatively – definitely one to watch out for.
Striding on stage with languid ease, frontman Barry Hyde cuts an intensely charismatic figure, his coat tails and towering quiff unveiling a modern-day dandy. Triumphantly avoiding an awkward show promoting only new material, the band pepper the set with old favourites. 'Skip To The End' sees grown men bouncing across the venue like blissed-out teenagers. ‘Struck Dumb,’ with a corruscating riff, is the pick of their new songs – a paen to humanity’s potential innate genius, and is a return to the more jerky pop of their early days. ‘The Heart Beat Song’, similarly infectious and energetic, is three minutes of loveliness and the audience are again invited to join in - “We’re singing out of tune, but I still want to sing with you.” Inviting the room to join Ross and Jaff on backing vocals, which they do enthusiastically, 'Hounds Of Love' sends an enthusiastic crowd into overdrive, and sees one overexcited young man throwing his shoes onstage at the lyric “take my shoes off and throw them in the lake.”
The Futureheads are a notoriously proficient bunch, but nothing can prepare you for their bewildering and intimidating live talent: beat-perfect from start to finish, their new material sees the band playing artfully with traditional song structure, recklessly shifting into acappella asides and building complex four part harmonies on the moody, atmospheric 'Jupiter'. The inimitable Ross Millard hurls out sleazy guitars as anthemic chants drive each song home. 'Sun Goes Down' reveals a more conceptual approach and 'The Connector' unleashes a burst of energy so acute it is physically palpable. They encore to a rapturous reception – Le Garage, Meantime and, majestically, Man Ray are rehashed from their first album, and these classics go down a storm. The lyrics “give me manray/ fuck me like/ give me Weston/ Touch each other in black and white” making no more sense than they did in 2004. But frankly, who cares? As long as these canny lads keep giving us decent nights like this, they can sing what the hell they want. Do you know what I mean?
Photos: Jamie Howard
Interview With The Futureheads
After playing a storming set in Fabryka in Krakow as part of a short three-date Polish tour, I managed to catch up with Ross and Jaff from The Futureheads and ask them a few questions about what they’d been up to. So it’s not your first time in Poland, you’ve been here twice before right? Yeah, that’s right, we’ve played Warsaw twice before and Krakow once and we’ve played Lublin too – a student event there – and we did the Woodstock Festival last year too (Przystanek, in eastern Poland). That was a massive free festival – it was enormous like. And how did that go? Yeah, it was great for us, it was kind of bizarre, because it was the probably the biggest festival we’ve ever played – there were probably over 100,000 people, and there was just one big stage so if you’re not watching that, you’re not doing anything, you know what I mean. And there was a kind of ‘Hari Krishna’ element to it as well, which was fun! I think in festivals you have to alter your set slightly – you play your bigger ‘hits’ – songs people might know. You also have to put over a very direct kind of attitude – kind of ‘come and see us, we’re the guys you’ve got to see’ – they might not have heard of you, they might not know you, but that attitude also entertains the people who are there at the very front, in the front row.
How do you find the Polish audience compared to the Uk? I think they like their rock songs – we’ve got kind of two sides to our set list you know – sort of fidgety, 90 second punk rock songs which are a bit more avante-garde, a bit more jerky or jarring than the other side of our set which is a bit more kind of rock – we tend to find they like their fist-pumping rock a bit more. We’ve always liked playing here – the audiences are a bit less critical and you don’t get any heckling! (laughs).
You’ve just come off a tour of Germany supporting Linkin Park – can you tell me a bit about that? Yeah, we just did nine dates – they asked us to do it, though it raised a few eyebrows! Obviously it was a big surprise, cos people don’t tend to associate us with kind of American rock bands, they’re not the sort of band we’d normally be affiliated with – a lot of people looked at that and wondered if that tour could work, or if it was even worth our time doing it, you know, but it was good. Most of the dates were in Germany, there was one in France. It was good to play those shows in front of people who might not come and see you normally – obviously because we don’t normally play to 15,000 people! (laughs) but also brings you into rock a bit more cos you’re playing to a rock crowd. If you just stick to doing what you’re comfortable with, sort of doing your own thing, staying in your own little world, then there’s no challenge there anymore you know, and you kind of lose perspective on everything. So I think for us it was interesting to see that world exists – which we’d seen before – we’ve done tours with Pearl Jam, Pixies, this that and the other, where you’re playing in these enormous mega-domes. I think there’s something to enjoy in those gigs you know – anyone who says they don’t enjoy playing in stadiums in front of massive crowds is a liar – it’s a great ego-boost for sure. So when you play slightly smaller venues like this, is it a bit strange for you? Aye! (laughs) we’ve got a smaller following in Poland obviously, and we’ve never quite understood why that is – different tastes I suppose. We’ve had a lot of good gigs and reactions here but we’ve never really had the crowds. It’s just a case of playing more I guess – at the moment we just haven’t been here enough to have a big enough name. Obviously you’d prefer to have the largest gigs possible, but I think it’s the same if you play in front of 100 people, 1000 people or 10,000 people, because it’s all about the dynamic between us, what’s going on onstage – that’s the gig for us – that’s the bit that we concentrate on the most. Can you tell me about your new album? It’s called ‘The Chaos’ – this album’s the first record we’ve made in the north east...it’s been a gradual process, which I think was good for it because it meant that we could write a handful of songs, record them, and see if that would inform the rest of the writing process…so I think that in a way, even though the songs have been written over a large period of time, they all tie together quite nicely. It has some of our brightest songs on it, and it has some of our darkest songs on it. There’s a mixture of everything in there – everything that we do – there’s harmonies, there’s sadness, there’s positivity…it’s a positive album..that’s what I’d describe it as – a positive album. There’s a theme in it – quite a few of the songs have a similar theme – and one of them’s called ‘Struck Dumb’ – it’s about a belief that every human being without exception is a potential genius. Mebbes not in music or in art, but some people are geniuses at making stained glass windows – some people are genius at building tents or making microphones…I think that the whole point of being a human being is to find your own genius, in the sense of trying to create something instead of trying to destroy something. There’s too much apathy in this society that we live in, and I’m sick of it...and that’s what the message is – it’s like “come on people, if you want something, you’ve gotta make it happen” You’ve set up your own record label, ‘NUL Records’ as you are no longer with a major label, how is that going? Aye, we were dumped! (laughs) Our second album didn’t really sell as much as our record company hoped, and they decided to get rid of us. Some bands may feel like “this is the end of the road, let’s call it a day lads”, but we never thought that. In a way, it’s been kind of liberating for us, as we can now go in to the studio and enjoy ourselves, whereas in the past it could be a bit of a chore. We feel freer now and more able to express ourselves, and are obviously much more in control of what we do. It’s a kind of sense of liberation. We don’t intend to sign anyone to our label as that’s not what we set out to do. We just want to make music which is heard and appreciated, and play gigs. And make some money obviously! How do you feel about the internet and illegal downloading? Personally I don’t mind it. If some kid on 5 quid pocket money a week decides to download all our albums, listens to them and then pays 15 quid on a concert ticket and buys a T-shirt as a result of that, we’re still making a living. Of course, we’d like to sell more albums but so would everyone. It’s just a fact of life in music now. Can you give me your views on the music industry as it currently stands? I don’t know…the music business…this our tenth anniversary this year…I couldn’t even describe how much the business has changed. It’s ridiculous like. All the methods have changed, certain old ways of doing things are blatantly dying and being replaced by new technology…and our main thing is that you’ve just got to go with it and maintain your integrity as musicians. And if you do that then it doesn’t really matter what happens to the business because you’ll still be there. It’s in a mess – but I’m glad to see major labels struggling a little bit because they’ve had their day of doing what they’re doing, and it’s time to give the power back to the artists you know – and that’s why the internet is so important – the internet kind of liberates us all in a way. Your influences have been well documented, from Wire to XTC to Kate Bush. Are you influenced by any of your contemporaries? Absolutely. I love Vampire Weekend, also Crystal Castles I really like. There’s a band called Dutch Uncles who are a new band and really good…err...Field Music, who are mates of ours from Sunderland, Frankie and the Heartstrings, who are good friends of mine...I like a band called The Errors…we’ve just been on tour in America with a really good band called The Like, who are a kind of 1960’s style all-girl pop band… and another band called Static Jacks who are a kind of raucous, young, indie punk rock band…there’s loads…Max Tundra, who makes electronic music, I love him. Any other influences? I think just every day things really…meeting people, the places you travel, stuff you see..I think life is an influence. We’re all big fans of Lynch, and I think that his surrealism is there in our music somewhere. We all read a lot, but it’s hard to say if that’s a direct influence on the music either really. A quick word on where you’re from...what do you say to people who ask you what it’s like being from Newcastle? (laughs). Well, Barry’s dad is a Newcastle fan! Nah, seriously, we’re not really into all the Newcastle – Sunderland nonsense… That’s good because I’m a Newcastle fan from Whitley Bay! Right…well see ya later..(laughs) Nice place…nice place…! (cough).Yeah, well you know, when we get journalists from the south who say we’re from Newcastle, we obviously have to correct them – we’re from Sunderland, and we’re proud of that. At the same time, we’ve got a lot of friends in Newcastle, and when you’re from the north east you have to play all over to get known – Sunderland, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Gateshead, wherever. Plenty of Newcastle bands come to our town and vice versa. The rivalry is really more of a football thing. (glaring, laughs) The only thing I’d say about the north east which is a bit of a downer is that there aren’t really any festivals there – they’re mainly down south or in Scotland. There’s a new one called Kendal Calling, which involves indie talent from the region and outside, but for some reason, our part of the world is always by-passed when it comes to major festivals…never understood that really ‘cos it’s a region that loves its music as well as football, and there’s plenty of local talent. Do you like going back to the north east? Has it changed much since you started out which was about the same time I moved here? Well we still live there so, obviously we love the north east still, aye. In terms of music, hardly any of the venues in Newcastle we grew up watching big bands play in – The Mayfair, The Riverside, The City Hall – remain. The Kluny is the best place in Newcastle now for up and coming bands. For big bands, you’ve got the Metro Arena, which sits about 5000, and that’s the way it’s going – you’ve either got small venues for lesser known acts or massive stadiums for huge stars, and not much in between – I think that’s sad, and indicative of a larger problem in music in the Uk. I have to ask you about THAT Kate Bush cover. Did you ask her before you covered I if it was ok to do so, did you ever hear what the notoriously-reclusive artist thought of it and do you still like playing it? Well, no we never asked her if it was ok to do it, we just decided to cover it and that was it. As long as we don’t claim it as our own it’s ok! Kate did speak to us about it once briefly, and she said she liked it a lot, so that was great for us to hear obviously. It’s kind of our break-through song in a way, certainly the one that got us noticed. We do still love playing it live, and we usually have a bit of audience participation – the crowd always love it too, so yeah I think it’s far from being an albatross for us, it’s a song we’re very fond of. Any plans for the future and when do you intend to come back to Poland? Well we might play The Open’er in Gdynia next year hopefully, and as for other festivals, mebbes we’d do Woodstock again – that was a good laugh. In terms of us touring on our own, it depends on if we can sell more tickets! We’ll be touring Europe a bit more before Christmas – we have some dates in Italy and Austria – and then a tour of the Uk in December, culminating with a date in Newcastle on the 23rd, just before Christmas. Next year I guess we’ll have a bit of a break after new year and then it’s back in the studio for the next album! Cheers for talking to us lads and enjoy the rest of your time in Poland. Cheers! Enjoy yourself when you go back to Whitley Bay! Here are a few of the best Futureheads tracks:
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